Grand County chef celebrates Julia Child
Imagine having Julia Child over for dinner.Julia Powell, the character played by Amy Adams in the recent film Julia & Julia could only dream of such an honor. But the closest the blogger came to having the robust 6-foot, 2-inch Julia in her home – while making 524 of Child’s recipes in 365 days – was to dress up like her, sporting quintessential pearls and all. But Jean Claude Cavalera, owner of Caroline’s Cuisine situated in the Three Lakes area of Grand County, knows exactly what it’s like to have Julia Child over for dinner.In 1990 while living in Chelsea, Mass., near Boston, French Chef Cavalera and his then-wife Caroline prepared Italian Gnocchi with a veal stew for Child. For dessert, they served apple tart.”She loved it.” Cavalera said. “She told me.” That’s not to say Cavalera wasn’t nervous. “Caroline one time told me, ‘Are you crazy? She is really coming to the house?’ I said, ‘Yes, she is coming.’ She said, ‘You’re nuts.'”At homeBut Child had a way about her to make everyone feel right at home, including herself that night.”Julia comes into the house and says hi and everything, and then she says, ‘Where is white wine?’ I said, ‘Well, it is in the fridge, let me go get it,’ and she just went to the fridge and helped herself. I was like, that’s kind of cool.” According to Cavalera, who at the time was the executive chef at the Ritz Carlton in Boston, Child had a genuine ease about her, peppered with a good sense of humor.”I had really enjoyed talking to her,” he said. “She loved to speak French, she loved to talk about tradition, she loved to talk about food, you know? She was really into it.”I remember talking to her about the Saturday Night Live and asking her about it making fun of her cutting her hand with the chicken, and she said this is the funniest thing she’d ever seen – ‘We were laughing so hard,’ she had said, ‘I love it.'”Child and husband Paul rented a home in Vallauris in southeastern France, just 20 miles from where Cavalera grew up.But Cavalera never met Child in France. Around the time Child was well into her cooking show “The French Chef,” which made her a national celebrity, Cavalera had graduated from cooking school in Nice and had earned an apprentice position at the famous Savoy in London, where he cooked for the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Frank Sanatra who had taken residency there.Eventually Cavalera moved on to work at the Loew’s Hotel in Monte Carlo, then La Chaumiere in Washington, D.C., and then on to the Hotel Intercontinental in San Diego. In 1985, he started work at the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel, Calif. At the time, Cavalera said, the Ritz was a happening place that celebrities such as O.J. Simpson, Tom Cruise and Mike Tyson would frequent.Presidential fareOne especially memorable lunch, Cavalera said, was when he cooked for three past presidents: President Reagan, President Ford and President Bush Sr.Not long after that, during his new post as head chef at the Boston Ritz Carlton, Cavalera learned President Bush Jr. didn’t like broccoli, so he sent to the White House his recipe for broccoli with hollandaise sauce. He never heard whether the president tried it. “It’s funny, because when I worked at the Ritz Carlton in Boston, people still remembered when (Child) started doing the cooking class because she borrowed all the pots and pans from the Ritz,” Cavalera said. “She was doing her cooking class from the Ritz at that time.”Pen palsCavalera sparked a friendship with Child at an event in Boston, and the friendship endured. Cavalera and Child shared not only dinner at his home, but about 15 correspondences in the years that followed, which Cavalera now keeps in a scrapbook. “I sent her some flowers one time,” Cavalera said, leafing through the book’s pages. “You see, she sent me a note.”Their short, cordial correspondences were written in English. Cavalera would send other gifts, like a bottle of wine.””She liked to keep up with people, she liked to drop notes. It was at a time without the Internet,” Cavalera said. Upon a visit to Rocky Mountain National Park, Cavalera decided to end an illustrious career that had run its course, in his mind. He and Caroline opened Caroline’s Cuisine in 1991. And although Julia Child often talked of family members who lived in Boulder, she never made it out to Colorado to visit him and his restaurant, a visit that would have been a delight to the restaurateur.Asked how he liked the Julia & Julia movie, Cavalera said he loved it.”Anybody that doesn’t have a traditional background in cooking can cook very well and achieve what she did,” Cavalera said of what he learned from Child. “At the time, it was only men who were in the kitchen. She really opened the door for others.”From her, Cavalera also learned of the importance of good ingredients, he said.”She also was very interested in people eating healthy. We are a fast-food nation, and I think she was not too fond of that,” Cavalera said. “She really loved fresh food. She would tell you, as long as you have fresh ingredients and spend time with it, you will come up with something wonderful. I think she was right. It’s good for any kind of cooking in the world, it doesn’t only speak to French cooking. If you put some love behind it, and some time, anybody can have good cooking.” – Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail email@example.com.
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